Answering the “Why is this free?” question

dollar-1175048_960_720You’ve probably heard warnings like “There ain’t no such thing as free lunch” or “If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold” as cautions against things being offered for free. I’ve encountered some of that skepticism in my promotion of WordPress for Toastmasters. People are waiting for the punchline, watching for my deep, dark ulterior motive.

It’s not all that mysterious, but let me give as straightforward of an answer as I can.

A little background: My name is David F. Carr, and I’m the prime mover behind the WordPress for Toastmasters project. I spent most of my career as a technology journalist at Internet World, Baseline Magazine, and Information Week and continue to exercise those muscles in my blog on Forbes.com. These days, I make most of my money as a ghostwriter and editor working with business and technology leaders. I’m also the author of a book, Social Collaboration for Dummies, which is about digital productivity strategies for business. The hands-on web development work I do is motivated by a desire to create online experiences that apply the lessons I’ve learned from my study of digital businesses.

My most widely used digital product is an events plugin for WordPress called RSVPMaker. The open source version of the software for Toastmasters I created is RSVPMaker for Toastmasters and the theme that supports Toastmasters branding is Lectern.

Because not everyone who wants to do web marketing for their club is a techie who wants to mess with configuring WordPress plugins and themes, I am offering free websites on something much like the FreeToastHost model. FTH established toastmastersclubs.org as the domain where all club sites are hosted (mysite.toastmastersclubs.org), and I have toastmost.org, where club sites get a web address in the format mysite.toastmost.org.

Which brings us to the why question. Some answers:

  • I’m a raging egomaniac. I’m proud of the software I created, originally for my own club, and want other people to be impressed.
  • Because the WordPress software I built on top of is free and open source, my plugin software had to be free and open source to be distributed through wordpress.org. (There is some wiggle room for “premium” add-ons). I get a tremendous head start from building on WordPress as a the foundation for web content management, and it in turn benefits from the contributions of thousands of volunteers.
  • The free websites for this project are running on a server I’m already paying for, which so far has adequate capacity to spare. If thousands of clubs were to go live on the service, I would have a greater need to offset expenses with advertising, donations, or some other form of revenue.
  • This is an opportunity to make professional contacts with Toastmasters all over the world, some of whom may have a writing, editing, or web consulting project to steer my way.
  • I’m following the same path as the developers of Free Toast Host and Easy-Speak, also volunteer-led projects.
  • I’m crazy: this is one definite possibility I have entertained, on days when I find myself investing time in this project that might be better spent on paying work.

If operating the free hosted club websites sites becomes too expensive, I could close the door to new registrations and still support the “early adopters.” That is, I don’t want to pull the rug out from under anyone who sets up a free site. And I would very much like to make this work on a self-sustaining basis.

Meanwhile, the availability of the open source software means Toastmasters clubs always have the opportunity to operate one of these sites independently. Using the multisite capability of WordPress, districts could potentially host websites for all their constituent clubs. Other sponsors could set up sites on the toastmost.org model anywhere in the world.

Setting the software free creates many opportunities, which I hope you will take advantage of.


* This software is offered "for Toastmasters" but not is provided by or endorsed by Toastmasters International. The use of Toastmasters brand assets (with proper disclaimers) in website designs has been reviewed by the Toastmasters International brand compliance team.